Now that the newest label in the jazz recording industry, Label M, is gaining momentum in the volume and frequency of its releases, producer Joel Dorn goes back to one of his earlier successes. That earlier classic album is Ray Bryant's Alone At Montreaux.
Once again, Dorn is releasing one of Bryant's live recordings somewhere in Europe. This time, the country happens to be France, and the discovery of the live tape amounts to one of the year's top stories of serendipitous good fortune. It seems that Bryant, not knowing their value, has kept dozens of tapes that sound men gave him after his live performances. Dorn knows their value. With the benefit of state-of-the-art digital enhancement, Bryant's concert performance comes across as brightly and in as spirited a manner as a concert recorded just this year.
One of Bryant's strengths is that his playing is timeless. That is, his performance on Somewhere In France could have been recorded four decades ago instead of in the last decade. "Slow Freight" captures the audience's imagination as strongly as it did in the 1960's. Even though Bryant has recorded infrequently of late, Somewhere In France proves that he certainly stays in practice. His performance is as strong and creative as one could expect from Bryant's more prolific recording period.
Another of Bryant's strengths is his mastery of a progression of piano styles that reflect the history of the music. "Jungletown Jubilee," perhaps the most stunning track on the CD for its technical achievement on the piano, conveys an extroverted style akin to Fats Waller's. In contrast, "Con Alma" proceeds slowly in an almost courtly manner, revealing Bryant's control of touch and feeling that nevertheless remains outgoing. "If I Could Just Make It Into Heaven" reminds the listener of Bryant's roots in gospel, it too remaining uplifting instead of ruminative. "St. Louis Blues'" introduction moves in an almost jagged fashion as Bryant's response comments on his call until he engages the audience in a light swing.
As even jazz pianists contend, it's exceedingly difficult to hold an audience's attentionespecially in a festivalthrough a solo performance. The perfect alignment of all of the elements sometime in 1993 resulted in a classic Ray Bryant performance. And this gem almost remained buried in the bottom of Bryant's dining room cabinet, instead of allowing Bryant enthusiasts to hear how he enthralled an audience somewhere in France seven years ago.
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